Peter La Farge – On the Warpath – 1965 – Folkways

Peter La Farge - On  the Warpath - 1965 - Folkways

I was initially aware of Peter La Farge from listening to Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan cover his songs and from reading about him in biographies on those two artists. The first recordings I heard of his were this album and As Long As the Grass Shall Grow which I bought when I was about 19 years old from Yesterday and Today Records, a shop that was in Parramatta which specialized in country records but also had some folk, blues and 60s psycedelia. They were both on one CD released by Bear Family Records.

There was a precision to Peter’s writing that I liked immediately, the songs were so well crafted. There was also something in his voice I could immediately relate to and that I have never heard before or since. Listening to Peter taught me a lot as a singer. I liked his rough hewn playing style too.

It took me about 18 years to get a copy of this on vinyl. Peter La Farge records aren’t exactly easy to find in Australia. In all my years of trawling through second hand record shops, op shops and specialty record stores I only ever found one album on of his on vinyl (a reissue of ‘Sings Women Blues’ on Verve) at Yesterday and Today Records back in the 90s and one album that had a track of his (As Long as the Grass Shall Grow on An Anthology of North American Indian and Eskimo Music, Folkways) at Discovery Records in Hornsby, again back in the 90s. In both of those instances I didn’t have the money to buy them at the time so I just looked at the covers and had a read of the song titles and wished I could afford them and in both instances I went back a couple of days later to buy them when I had the money but they were sold already. It’s funny when I can remember exactly where I saw records that I didn’t even get to buy.

Ebay has altered my record buying habits lately and I now mainly shop online. I found this album there. It took about three weeks to ship to me and I was so happy to see that the cover was in mint condition and that the record had hardly been played. This is probably my favourite album cover. The photograph by David Gahr and the design by Ronald Clyne is striking. It hits the right balance of anger, defiance and pride. Like all Folkways LPs it is cheaply manufactured but it is designed really well and it comes with a nice booklet packed with notes, lyrics and musical notation of the songs.

This was the final album from Peter La Farge. He made five albums in five years. His first was on CBS and the rest were on Folkways. They are all good. He was an actor, a playwright, a rodeo rider, artist and a Korean war veteran. He committed suicide in October 1965. He was 34 years old. He packed a lot into a short life.

If you want to hear his recordings, four of his albums are available from Smithsonian Folkways and if you want to find out more about Peter, film maker Sandra Hale Schulman has made a documentary about him,┬áThe Ballad of Peter La Farge and she’s written a biography Don’t Tell Me How I Looked Falling: The Ballad of Peter La Farge.

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Odetta – Odetta Sings Dylan – 1965 – RCA Victor

Odetta - Odetta Sings Dylan - 1955 - RCA Victor

One of my favourite records. No one sings Dylan like Odetta sings Dylan. That said, no one sings Dylan like Dylan sings Dylan neither. They are both great artists and great voices. Odetta trained as an opera singer but was sidetracked by folk music. She had a voice that was deep like a man’s though it remained very feminine. She was incredible. Like some of my other favourite records this features Bruce Langhorne’s guitar playing. I love his sound. Bruce lost several of his fingers due to an accident with a cherry bomb when he was a child but he could really play beautifully. When I was searching through records I’d often have a look at the liner notes and the personel who played on the record. Sometimes I’d buy a record just because of one of the players on it. One of the sadder things about how music is consumed these days is that people have lost contact with that side of it, the human side. If you just get an mp3 of a song without all that information it doesn’t exactly spur you on to think about who played the second guitar line or who was the engineer or who played the bass. By removing the human side of the record, by removing the understanding that it took time and effort to produce it removes the sense of value that is attached. It is a pity that music is being devalued in this way. But back to this record, the opening track, Baby I’m in the Mood for You locks in with a driving folky beat that really sets the mood for the entire album. It is a record that is so alive. I love it.